England

Strike-hit Govia Thameslink seeks Southern train drivers

People boarding a Southern train Image copyright EPA
Image caption The aim is to reduce reliance on rest-day working, the rail operator said

A strike-hit rail operator will restart a recruitment campaign to hire trainee drivers to try to reduce disruption.

Govia Thameslink (GTR) is seeking new drivers for the Southern network, which has seen months of strikes in a dispute with the RMT and Aslef unions.

GTR said the company wanted to reduce its reliance on rest-day working.

Ongoing action by Aslef includes an overtime ban, which Southern says causes daily disruption. Aslef said the firm had never employed enough drivers.

Both the RMT and Aslef are opposing changes to guards' roles on trains.

A Department for Transport source told the Press Association the government would work with GTR to help with the recruitment drive, including targeting people who may want to work part time as drivers.

The source said having more flexible working in the role could open up careers to people "from all parts of society".

'Sunday headline'

A spokeswoman for GTR said the operator had an ongoing objective to maintain a pool of 200 trainee drivers across its entire franchise, which includes Thameslink and Great Northern services, and it wanted to boost that number.

But she said the fresh recruitment drive, starting on Monday, was specifically for the Southern franchise.

"This helps us bring in new fleets of trains across Thameslink and Great Northern and reduce to a minimum our dependence on rest-day working, so that we can deliver a more consistent service for our passengers," she said.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said Southern was currently cancelling a quarter of its services on non-strike days because of the union's overtime ban.

"So it would need to recruit 300 more train drivers just to deliver the service it promised to deliver when it won its franchise," he said.

"As for its plan to recruit a new pool of 200 trainees, I suspect, on cost and retention of knowledge, it would be a nonsense.

"I see the hand of [Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling here, who wants a headline on a quiet Sunday, rather than a sensible plan to resolve the problem at the heart of this industrial dispute."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The RMT has been involved in industrial action since last April.

Mr Grayling said last week the government was "engaged day in, day out trying to get this issue resolved and will carry on doing that".

The next strike action by Aslef, which represents train drivers, is planned for 24, 25 and 27 January.

The RMT, which represents conductors and also 12 drivers, has been involved in industrial action since last April and has announced a 24-hour strike for 23 January.

The dispute centres on a move to turn Southern guards into supervisors. As such, they would no longer be responsible for opening and closing carriage doors - that role would then fall to the drivers.

GTR has said it will take Aslef to the Supreme Court over the action.

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